ISLAMABAD (AP) — Pakistan’s three-times-elected former prime minister Nawaz Sharif returned home from Dubai on a special flight Saturday, ending four years of self-imposed exile in London in a bid to win voter support ahead of upcoming general elections in January.

Sharif is expected to address a large homecoming rally in the eastern city of Lahore later on Saturday. His return comes at a time when Pakistan is experiencing increasing political unrest and one of its worst economic crises.

“Today I am going to Pakistan after four years and I am very happy with the grace of Allah,” Sharif told reporters before leaving Dubai for Islamabad. He arrived in the United Arab Emirates from Saudi Arabia on Friday after traveling there from London last week.

He said he wished the situation in the country had improved in his absence. He left Pakistan in 2019, two years after he resigned following his conviction in a bribery case.

According to several videos shared by his Pakistan Muslim League party on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter, he said that both the economy and political situation in Pakistan have deteriorated in recent years.

But he added: “As I said, I leave everything to God. I left everything to God.”

He said he appeared in court more than 150 times after his fall in 2017.

Sharif has been a fugitive since he failed to appear in a Pakistani court in 2019 when his successor Imran Khan allowed him to travel abroad to receive medical treatment after complaining of chest pains. Sharif later extended his stay in London, saying his doctors had not allowed him to travel.

Sharif’s main political rival, Khan, was arrested in August after a court sentenced him to three years in prison in a corruption case.

Sharif, speaking to reporters in Dubai, said he hoped Pakistan could get back on the path of development. “There is a glimmer of hope and the glimmer of hope should not be lost. With the grace of God we can fix the situation,” he said.

Sharif’s comments came two days after a federal court in Pakistan granted Sharif protection from arrest for several days in bribery cases, clearing the way for him to return home from self-imposed exile in London.

Thursday’s Islamabad High Court decision was a major boost for Sharif and his party, which is struggling to counter the popularity of Khan, who was ousted by a no-confidence vote in April 2022 but remains the country’s leading political figure despite his conviction and imprisonment Opposition remains.

Sharif also faces several legal challenges. In 2020, an anti-corruption court in Islamabad issued an arrest warrant for him after he failed to return home. The same court on Thursday suspended the arrest warrant until October 24. Another federal court granted Sharif bail until Oct. 24 and gave him protection from arrest until then.

Sharif was sentenced to 10 years in prison in 2018 in a corruption case involving the purchase of luxury apartments in London. His party became extremely unpopular after Khan’s ouster when Nawaz Sharif’s brother Shehbaz Sharif replaced Khan, a former cricketer turned politician.

Shehbaz Sharif failed to improve the economy despite saving Pakistan from default.

His term ended in August.

A caretaker government is currently in power and will vote in January.

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